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June 08, 2007

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The Great Crossbow Debate

Field & Stream is running a beginner’s guide to crossbows in its August issue, and the editors want to hear your opinion on where the weapons belong in the hunting landscape. Should they be considered just another bow? Or should they be banned from archery seasons? Read David E. Petzal and Anthony Licata's positions (below), then tell us what you think.

Crossbows, Compounds ... Who Cares?
By Deputy Editor David E. Petzal

This blog is supposed to be about guns, but a good argument is a good argument, so why not?

The crossbow was invented in China, certainly by 200 B.C., and possibly as early as 600 B.C. Like gunpowder, its use eventually spread to Europe, where people used it to shoot each other. The first person who really didn’t like crossbows was Pope Innocent II. In 1139 he and the Lateran Council outlawed the use of the crossbow (except on non-Christians) declaring that skill with it was a “deadly art, hateful to God.” In 1146 it was outlawed throughout Europe, but then, as now, people paid no attention to weapons bans.

Crossbows were for short range only, and their rate of fire, compared to the longbow, was very slow. But their advantage was that the average ignorant dung-encrusted peasant required little training in order to use one, while it took a lifetime of practice to produce a competent longbowman. Firearms made the crossbow obsolete as a military weapon, but it remained popular for hunting.

People still hate crossbows because, compared to a conventional bow, they supposedly require little skill; and they remove the single greatest handicap of the conventional bow by letting you keep an arrow “cocked and locked” indefinitely. Users of stickbows and compounds brood on this and become enraged. “Unsporting,” they bellow, and demand that crossbows be outlawed for hunting.

This is pretty thin logic. If you compare a crossbow to a compound, there are two differences. One is the stock. The other is, you can put a scope sight on a crossbow. But how much advantage is a scope over fiber optic sights? A crossbow is still a 40-yard tool, just like a compound. Is the stock that big a deal? I tend to doubt it. A lot of animals are taken each year by hunters who have to draw their bows just before they shoot, so really, is it that hard?

Unless you want to limit people to stickbows and flintlocks, drop the hypocrisy. A crossbow is just a bow, albeit one with a handle, and it belongs in archery seasons as sure as any modern compound does.

Crossbows Are Great, But They’re Not Bows
By Deputy Editor Anthony Licata

I think it’s ridiculous that in 22 states crossbows are either completely illegal for hunting or an option for handicapped hunters only. There is no logical reason for this third-rate status. But there is a time and place for everything, and while crossbows are a fine choice for any general hunting season, they do not belong in archery-only seasons.

First, some simple facts. Crossbows and modern compound bows are so similar in ballistic performance that they are both 40-yard weapons. A Crossbow is easier to fire accurately because of its sights, stock, and ability to be braced during the shot. But to be fair, with advances in design, components, and mechanical releases, modern compounds are getting easier to master as well.

There is one essential difference between the two. Because you can cock and load a crossbow, you eliminate what any bowhunter will tell you is the sport’s biggest challenge: drawing an arrow undetected on an animal standing within 40 yards.

Some say, so what? Isn’t it better to do anything that gets more hunters in the field? They claim that by banning crossbows from bow seasons, we’re dividing our hunting fraternity and playing right into the hands of antihunters.

Forgive me for not following the party line, but the idea that setting separate seasons for different types of weapons somehow makes us vulnerable to antihunters is foolish and paranoid. In fact, I think that primitive weapons’ seasons actually help hunting.

To me, the whole point of primitive seasons is to acknowledge and reward the idea that hunting should be hard. In our daily lives we welcome every technological advancement that helps us do things easier and faster. But don’t we hunt to get away from all that? Hunting is about using ancient, primal skills in a way that respects nature and the animals we pursue. Once we accept technology over competence and instant gratification before sacrifice, we forfeit what makes hunting so much more than a pastime or hobby. The biggest threat to hunting isn’t division within our own ranks--it’s the ethic that considers more hunters killing more deer as the ultimate end, no matter the means.

Certainly the advances in modern compounds and in-line muzzleloaders have eroded some of the meaning of primitive seasons. But let’s try to preserve what is left of their spirit. If you’re a junior hunter or an injury prevents you from pulling back a compound, then I think a crossbow is fine during bow season. Otherwise, work on your skills, and let’s keep our archery seasons for bows that you actually have to draw before you shoot.


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I tore my right rotator cup and was unable to hunt for two seasons. The injury seems to not go away and being hard headed, wouldn't let the dr. do anything. Not even give me a release so I could get a crossbow permit. I simply didn't hunt bow season. I have since backed my bow down to 75lbs. And let me tell you, its an old Proline bow. None of that 75% let off $#%@ you see these days. That said, I guess if you a born with a physical condition that doesn't allow a hunter to use conventional bows, then by all means, let them use a crossbow. We need all the hunters we can get. gimpy or not.

Mike Diehl

"Unless you want to limit people to stickbows and flintlocks, drop the hypocrisy."

That pretty much nails it right where it belongs, IMO. Right on, Dave!

Mike Diehl

"To me, the whole point of primitive seasons is to acknowledge and reward the idea that hunting should be hard."

You're either pushing (or been sold) a phoney premise: that hunting (outside of canned hunts) with *anything* is ever really easy, or that hunting with a bow or ml requires more skill, patience, stalking ability, &c than hunting with any other weapon.

It's not the weapon that matters. It's the hunter.

Dr. Ralph

This is a tough one. Crossbows became legal here last year and it made a big difference to me. If you hunt from a stand you can stay seated with a crossbow and it's a whole lot like any other weapon with a trigger. The hardest part of bow hunting was standing up, drawing your bow and holding it until the shot presented itself all while trying to remain undetected by an animal 30 yards or less away. Now I just aim and shoot. The traditionalists hate it but it gives me two more months to hunt and I don't see a lot of people using flintlocks and patched round balls.

Dave M

Let me try to understand Mr. Licata's argument here...compound bows and muzzle loaders are "primative" weapons and crossbows are not. I guess that would make a crossbow a "modern" weapon as seasons are defined? How the h--- can something invented 300-600 years B.C. be considered more modern than something that came along hundreds or thousands of years later?!?

Horizontal or vertical, a bow is a bow. It propels a stick with feathers on one end and a point on the other and requires the user to employ the same "ancient, primal skills in a way that respects nature and the animals we persue" to close within 40 yds to make a killing shot.

As hunters we have a lot bigger issues to spend our time and energy on than getting into pissing matches amoung ourselves about whether a weapon invented almost 3,000 years ago is more technologically advanced than one that came into being in the last 50 years, or if a hunter who uses the latter operates on a higher spiritual plane than one who uses the former.

This reminds me a bit of the flyfishermen who believe that certain streaches of trout water should be set aside for their purist form of piscatorial pursuit.


Crossbow w/scope or modern compound? Neither are "primitive weapons", but they are limited in range. To me, it depends on why your state defines the archery season. Is it defined as a primitive weapon type season or just a season that is limited to archery for other reasons, like dividing the hunting pressure, safety issues, etc. In my state, hunters may only hunt big game during one weapon season per species, i.e. archery, muzzleloader, or modern firearms. Hunter orange is required during all modern firearms or muzzleloader seasons and any overlaps.

Crossbows are not allowed except for handicapped hunters, which I think is great. Muzzleloaders are not allowed to have sights containing glass and the percussion cap must be exposed to the elements. 209 and disc primers not allowed. Those improvements are not "primitive " enough, I assume.

I would hunt with a crossbow if I had the opportunity, if it gave me more time in the field. I don't care for sitting in a tree stand all day, so neither is my personal bag. However, if modern compound bows are allowed, why not crossbows? I doubt the deer care.


I have a devil’s advocate’s proposition. Compound bows are now too easy to shoot.

The use of longbows and recurves is very difficult to master, and those who use them are truly skilled. On the scale of difficulty of use, going from hard to easy, the traditional bows come first and then there is a big gap. Next comes the modern compound bow. Only slightly easier than the compound is the crossbow. With a little good advice and a good choice of bow, any adult in reasonable physical condition can be shooting fast and straight enough in two weeks to be ready to hunt deer – at least as far as shooting skill goes.

DEP neglected the most difficult, but not fatal, argument against his position. Compounds require the movement of the draw. But we all know though that there are 1001 ways to spook a deer and the draw is just one of them!

Here then is the kicker: If the archery season is to be reserved for ‘difficult’ archery then the compound bowhunters will have to be kicked out of the woods.

This position of mine is not a case of the flyfisher looking down upon the guys with worms and bobbers. I’m a flyfisher, and a bait fisherman. I’m a compound bowhunter but (not yet anyhow) a traditional archer.


Too be honest, I see small advantage of a crossbow over a compound bow. The compound is a little more accurite from what I have seen and the cross bow a little easier to shoot so the difference is moot. I agrre that it matters with what the state is setting the hunt up for. If it is to set aside hunting for primative hunting let them stick to long bows and recurves and put the cross bow and compounds in with the muzzle loading season and keep them to flintlocks and precussion. If it is to keep down deer population open the flood gates.

John B.

An arrow is an arrow. Whether it comes from a longbow,compound bow or a crossbow.
I think that much of the furor comes from a bit of elitism on the part of traditional bowhunters(if I may differentiate in that manner) who dislike the crossbow because anyone can pick one up and be an "archer" with little or no training. It is also tied to "bow only" hunting seasons where it means, potentially, an increase in hunters and thus more competition in the field.
All understandable reactions, but not good reasons to ban or limit the use of crossbows.

Brett In VA

I don't like flinging sticks at animals to begin with. But If it offers a handicapped person a chance to enjoy what non-handicapped people enjoy every year I say sure why not. I think if you are using a cross bow and are not handicapped then you should shot it during rifle season. I feel just about the same way towards the new modern in-line muzzle stuffers. If you are going to have a BlackPowder season then they should use black powder and a firearm of that time. All the new supermag inlines with large scopes should be shot during regular rifle season.

What is the differance in a modern inline shooting 150gr of Smokless propelent using a 209 shotgun primer and firing a modern bullet than shooting a 30-06? NOTHING.

Dr. Ralph

The more I think about it, my crossbow has no cams! It is actually more primitive than the compound bow by almost 500 years... and much more effective. The leap from longbow to compound is more drastic than the leap from compound to cross.

As far as muzzle loaders go I bought the $99.- kit from Cabela's or Bass Pro whatever in the late 80's and blued the barrel and sanded and stained the stock and filed the sights down until I could hit the orange at eighty yards with spit, pillow ticking, and a lead ball. I was 1800's all the way. The BIG difference now isn't in-line ignition, it's that Swift scope that lets me count the points in the dark...

Mike Diehl

"What is the differance in a modern inline shooting 150gr of Smokless propelent using a 209 shotgun primer and firing a modern bullet than shooting a 30-06? NOTHING"

I guess in your case ignorance makes the argument work for you.

Mike Diehl

That was unkind of me. My bad, sorry.

Look, I own and regularly fire a centerfire .30-06. I also own and fire regularly a Savage ML10-II, firing smokeless and using a 250 grain jacketed slug.

Ballistically there is no comparison. The .30-06 with a 150-180 bt spitzer can reach out and touch something more than twice as far as the ML10-II.

Ballistically, a sidelock percussion-cap primed muzzle-loading Sharps Buffalo rifle can, in the right hands, shoot the pants off a .30-06 or an ML10-II.

It's *all* about the hunter. The teeth-gnashing about the implement is wholly misplaced. And the claims of people who cry "woe unto you" for using an in-line ML or a crossbow rather than a compound, recurve, are long, *always* rely on absurd claims about what the allegedly tradition-breaking technology can do in comparison with the politically correct choice.


Last season I spent weeks in the woods this year because of the birth of my daughter I will spend days and because of that my time at the range has to go. Crossbow is the only thing I have time for. Besides isn't the art of hunting getting the animal less than 40 yards away.

Dr. Ralph

The more and more I think about it, it's much like many of the other discussions on this website, it's about "the other one's". You know... those who see an assault rifle and think because of it's menacing appearance it must only kill humans. It's about NON-HUNTERS!!! As long as you keep the countryside quiet it is still bow season. What they don't hear can't hurt them. It doesn't matter if you develop a bow that kills caribou instantly at 700 yards you will be able to use it because it will not bother "the other one's".

hunting is hunting. as long as you respect the woods you hunt in, and the animal you hunt, and state laws you are a hunter

hunting is hunting. as long as you respect the woods you hunt in, and the animal you hunt, and state laws you are a hunter


I'd rather hunt with a crossbow than any scoped weapon. I am against all seasons that give some hunters an edge over others soley based on thier choice of weapons. Who do modern archers think they are kidding? Sitting in a treestand in scent free clothing waiting on that buck to walk by that they scouted with thier trail cameras doesnt sound very primitive to me. I am a bow hunter (compound and long bow) but I also love blackpowder and pistol hunting. I like to hunt deer close so I dont use scopes. I think crossbows would offer another challege I'd like to have the option to try. I dont understand why I cant take my unscoped muzzelloader, pistol or future crossbow (hopefully) into the woods with bow hunters. The only people being hurt by this debate are hunters and Im sure the Antis are loving every minute of it.

Frank L

There is a definite difference between the crossbow and the compound. you don't draw it, you cock it, you don't release the string, you pull the trigger... By all means, allow them, but don't lump them into Archery season.. Personally, I hunt with a recurve. Does that make me any better than the guy that hunts with a crossbow ? No, certainly not.. but I know for me to be successful, I need to get the animal as close to me as possible and do everything right. That is what I love about archery season. Knowing that we are pushing ourselves to be the best we can be, not taking the easiest or quickest way to a kill. As sportsmen, we must unite as one, and realize we are all different. With that difference should be different seasons. If we don't want to recognize these differences, then don't recognize any.. lets let the rifles, shotguns, muzzle loaders, compound bows, recurve bows and crossbows all out in the woods at the same time.. Happy ? I didn't think so....

When the Apocalypse is begun, giant, horned fiends will burst out of the earth and the seas will thicken with blood as the giants kick ass and take names. The air will reek of brimstone and Krispy Kreme as Fatgirls drink up the oceans and vomit forth the Dead of All Ages. The Freemasons will align with the Mormons to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem, and goats will be broiled there daily for the delectation of the AntiChrist, who will look just like Al Gore. The World Bank and the Bilderbergers will divide the garments, relics, and treasure of the Bishop of Rome, and presently the earth will open and swallow all that moves upon its surface as the sun hides its face in horror and the stygian night of eternal damnation falls over all.
We must move Satanism into the New Milleneum and use modern technology to bring about Satan's New World Order.

We need one of those audio recordings of the entire King James Bible, spoken by that NRA guy from Planet of the Apes. We will get a tape recorder and re-record the spoken Bible on tape and then play it BACKWARDS!!!! Then we will get a powerful sound truck and go into the streets and play the backwards-re-recorded Bible, and VOILA! The Apocalypse will commence!

Buddy Hinton

We should remove Al "Puta" Gore from the crackpot lecture circuit and stuff his big fat air-conditioned ass into GITMO and replace him with Goya's Fabulous Satannic Goat.

The goat will fly around the country and cheerlead the various crackpot org gatherings and useful idiot bus-ins while showing these insipid, wanna-be hippies how to have a good time while worshipping Gaia, that is, EVERYBODY GIT NEKKID AND GIT RIGHT DOWN TO THE GOODY!!!!


I think the president should step in. After Katrina, people are frightened... now we have this big old p!g running around... what's a mother to do?? Things were different when I was younger. There were no Katrinas then, and there certainly weren't any s the size of a locomotive, and if there had have been, the president would have called out the National Gaurd and not some little fat kid with a pop-gun!

I feel that p!gs like that one are involved in pushing drugs near our schools... I just don't, like the look of them! We need Elvis, and we need Ike to straighten this country out! Ike would see to it that these huge p!gs were never allowed to graze near our elementary schools again!

The Captain was cool, but Gumby was just about the coolest thing ever on American TV. The whole surreal Gumby gang: the horse, the lizard-thing, Goo, the Blockheads, and all the rest were marvelous, as were their automobiles and other, more bizaare appliances. Davey and Goliath were great, too, but they were clearly derivatives of the Gumby originals. It's amazing how many of America's really great original entertainment comes from Lutherans and Mormons!


In New York the battle of/against crossbows must be in its 15th year. I think most the battling is by the New York State Bow Hunters who jealously guard their seasons which have expanded considerably in length to the determent of the regular gun and blackpowder seasons, and to the small game seasons.

If I was to believe anything about the cross bow debate in New York State its about disgruntled regular season deer hunters jerking the chain of the bow hunters for hogging the deer seasons. I must admit it seems the bow hunters swarm all over the woods chasing deer a good 45-days prior the regular season. What’s more, these bow hunters are hunting during regular bird hunting seasons like camo ninja’s.


As long as people who wouldn't be able to hunt due to a disability can get out in the woods and hunt because they can use a crossbow I say whats really so wrong with that. It's not my archery weapon of choice but thats me, and whatever you choose should be yours. My choice is a very old Bear Polar 2, with graphite arrows, a release that has a trigger(gasp), and a red dot (gasp) scope!! not your average hunting bow, but very very fast and very very ACCURATE.The main thing is that more people are hunting and more hunters=more dollars for state and federal agencies to use to make our sport even better which is what we should all want in the first place, RIGHT?? nuff said.

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